Quincy Jones – Roots: The Saga of an American Family – A&M/ Varese Sarabande

by | Jul 23, 2016 | Jazz CD Reviews

A tiny taste of Roots…

Quincy Jones – Roots: The Saga of an American Family – A&M/Varese Sarabande 3020674258 (1977), 27:41 ***:

(Quincy Jones – composer; with full orchestra, twelve percussionists, choir, and vocalists)

With the recent all-new Roots mini-series debuting on A&E, Lifetime, and History Channel, the original soundtrack recording from the 1977 ground breaking series has been reissued. At a paltry sub-28 minute length, this recording just whets the appetite for the mania that the original Roots brought to the American public viewing audience. It was one of the first mini series released on American TV, and its viewership was astounding. I remember being glued to the TV while in college. Written by Alex Haley, it recounted the journey of slaves to America from Africa. The fictional account was deeply moving and helped begin a modern time discussion of race relations.

Broadcast on eight consecutive nights (Jan. 23-30, 1977) on ABC, it became an immediate sensation. Starring LeVar Burton as a young Kunta Kinte with strong performances from Lou Gossett Jr., Ben Vereen, Ed Asner, Leslie Uggams, Maya Angelou, Ralph Waite and many others, it won nine Emmy nominations after being nominated for 37 awards.

Quincy Jones composed nearly all of the soundtrack,  introducing the public to African tribal rhythms, sea shanty, field hollers, gospel, and fiddle tunes. Using a full orchestra with a master drummer from Senegal (Zak Diouf), the Reverend James Cleveland conducting the Wattsline Choir, vocalist Letta Mbulu, and eleven percussionists, Jones had free rein from producer David Wolper to recreate the rhythms that the slaves experienced both from Africa through an extended period through the Civil War.

The majestic drumming coupled with strings helped tie the series together. Using top jazz musicians (Shelly Manne, Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, Ernie Watts, Jerome Richardson) and the best of studio artists, Jones could paint a full palette of emotions for the viewing audience. The “Roots Mural Theme” by Gerald Fried is perhaps the most memorable musical memory.

It’s just hard to believe that the eight hours of the series could not have produced more musical material for a soundtrack album.


Part One: Africa (The Motherland)
Motherland, Roots Mural Theme, Main Title: Mama Aifambeni, Behold,The Only Thing Greater than Yourself, Oluwa (Many Rains Ago), Boyhood to Manhood, The Toubob is Here!, Middle Passage, You in Americuh Now, African

Part Two: America (The Promised Land)
Roots Mural Theme Intro, Ole Fiddler, Jumpin’ De Broom, What Can I Do?, Roots Mural Theme Bridge, Oh Lord, Come By Here; Free At Last, Many Rains Ago (Oluwa)

—Jeff Krow

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